Across the Spider-Verse

I very much enjoyed the first Miles Morales Spider-Man film, and was keen the see the new one in a cinema because I was expecting top notch animation. I was not disappointed. I don’t expect to see a better film this year.

There are two basic themes to the Spider-Verse films. The first is that they are set in a multiverse in which multiple different versions of Spider-Man exist, each in their own world. The other is that the films are animated, which allows them to be much more comic-like.

Obviously we’ve had many animated versions of comic book stories before, but I can’t think of many like the Spider-Verse films. These films have more in common with Looney Tunes cartoons, because anything can happen in them. Strange things can happen with colour and perspective. Text boxes can pop up at random. Anything you can draw, you can animate. Realism be damned.

The main villain from Across the Spider-Verse, Spot, is perfect for this type of movie. His super power is that he can make holes in reality and move through them. All sorts of visual jokes are possible, and the film uses many of them.

In the previous film we were introduced to characters such as Spider-Ham (a pig Spider-Man) and Spider-Man Noir from a black and white universe. In this one we get Pavitr Prabhakar, an Indian Spider-Man, and Spider-Punk, a Black British Spider-Man. We also get a brief guest appearance from the Peter Parker of the Lego universe (complete with Lego J Jonah Jameson). Not content with that, there is a whole cross-multiverse organization of Spider-People headed up by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), a.k.a. Spider-Man 2099.

Fun as it may be (and I laughed a lot), this film also has a serious edge. To start with, it is a film about teenagers with family issues. Both Miles and Gwen Stacy have difficulty keeping their spider-identities secret from their families. In Gwen’s universe her father, a police officer, believes that Spider-Woman is responsible for the murder of Gwen’s best friend, Peter Parker.

Layered onto this is the whole question of Miles’ right to be Spider-Man. In the film this is represented by the fact that the spider who bit him was an interloper from another universe. However, it is clear that the real issue here is that dudebro fans don’t believe that a Black kid has the right to be Spider-Man. A major plot point in the film is that there are specific events in the life of each Spider-Man that must take place, or their world will unravel. These are called ‘Canon Events’.

Who cares about the Canon, right?

And on that subject, the film introduces one more element that is bound to enrage the dudebros. It suggests that Gwen Stacy is a trans girl. Clearly she is at least an ally, because a trans flag bearing the slogan, “protect trans kids”, is seen in her bedroom. But there is an argument that she could be trans herself. For more detail, see here.

Now you may wonder how a trans girl with a gruff, authoritarian police captain for a father could possibly have transitioned. But this is the multiverse. There’s no reason why universes cannot exist in which trans kids are treated with love and respect by their families, even if many bad things also happen there.

Somewhere out in the multiverse, there is a universe in which Peter Parker is a trans boy. Somewhere out there is a universe in which the Green Goblin is furious about the lack of rights that trans folks have. Somewhere out there is a universe in which I was assigned female at birth, discovered that I had mutant telepathy powers, and was invited to enroll in Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

Go you, Spider-Gwen. I wish you had existed when I was a kid.

There will be a third film. Given the complexity of the animation, it will be a few years away. I can wait. It will be worth it.